In part one of this look at the largely anonymous team who played on a colossal number of US pop hits of the 60s we saw that although their output was vast and varied there was a common denominator of radio-friendly pop; be it the crooning of Sinatra or Martin, Herb Alpert’s Tijuana trumpet, the surf and Spector sounds dug by the kids or the sunshine harmonies of the top vocal groups.
However, we also heard them backing the most ground-breaking music of the times via Brian Wilson’s incredible musical brain. Witness also Lee Hazlewood’s extraordinary 1967 duet with Nancy Sinatra, switching between 4/4- and 3/4-time signatures. Elektra producer Bruce Botnick hired the Crew to realise Arthur Lee’s envelope-pushing vision for symphonic rock music when Love were looking not up to the task. Shocked and stunned, the band persuaded Lee and Botnick to give them another chance and they duly delivered Lee’s masterpiece and my favourite album of all time, Forever Changes, but The Daily Planet retains the backing tracks recorded by Crew mainstays Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Don Randi and Billy Strange.
The Fifth Dimension, Simon and Garfunkel, Elvis, Sammy, The Monkees and even The Electric Prunes… The Wrecking Crew were working their pants off. Literally thousands of sessions, several in a day, and the hits kept coming. And then one of their own became a star!
Originally from Arkansas guitarist and vocalist Glen Campbell was one of the youngest members of the Crew. Frank Sinatra apparently called him a ‘cowboy’ on the Strangers in the Night Session, but the 30-year-old was soon to hit the big time. His covers of Jimmy Webb’s songs, such as Galveston and By the Time I Get to Phoenix shot him into showbiz big time, but it was Wichita Lineman that was touched by genius. That genius was not just Campbell’s and Webb’s, whose songs were also providing Wrecking Crew hits for the Fifth Dimension and Sammy Davis, among many others. From Carol Kaye’s opening bass riff and Hal Blaine’s beautiful drum kick in, we have in the hands of arranger Al De Lory three minutes of sheer magic. In 2010, Rolling Stone magazine's list of the ‘500 Greatest Songs of All Time’ ranked ‘Wichita Lineman’ at number 195, which is preposterous - no way is there 194 songs better than this.
Already mentioned, bassist (and occasional guitarist) Carol Kaye and drummer Hal Blaine are other names who have gradually got their due respect, albeit several decades on. Blaine, who died aged 90 in 2019, really was the King of the Crew. He played on thousands of hits and an estimated forty #1 records. From 1966-71 he played on six consecutive Grammy Award Record of the Year winners. It is Hal Blaine that you hear at the start of Elvis’ fantastic A Little Less Conversation and check the same groovy intro on the Fifth Dimension’s Good News. I haven’t been able to verify this but am convinced that the delicious bass plucking on Gary Lewis’ New in Town is by Carol. It’s gotta be her! There are plenty of YouTube clips of Carol talking about her career. Please check them out. She was the sole female musician in the Crew and is truly a treasure.
We can’t name check them all but music lovers who like to dig a little deeper will recognise the names Leon Russell, Earl Palmer, Tommy Tedesco, Larry Knechtel, Jim Keltner, Jim Gordon, Al Casey, Al De Lory, Dr John, Billy Strange, Jim Horn, Julius Wechter and James Burton. They really did have something magical going on over there, but all good things come to an end. The heyday of the WC hit factory started to wind down in the early seventies, though classics would still appear such as Captain and Tenille’s 1975 worldwide smash Love Will Keep Us Together.
In 2008 Denny Tedesco, son of guitarist Tommy Tedesco, produced The Wrecking Crew, a multi-award-winning documentary, that has gone some way to giving these musicians their dues.
Few of these cats would get recognised in a supermarket in their hometowns, yet to this day they are heard dozens of times a day on radios, jukeboxes and CD players throughout the world. Pianist Don Randi expressed it succinctly and perfectly with the title of his memoir; ‘You’ve Heard These Hands’.